SDUSA and the Democratic Convention

SDUSA marches at the DP Convention in Philly

SDUSA marches at the DP Convention

No SDUSA members attended the Democratic National Convention as delegates, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t present. SDUSA was represented among the thousands who gathered at FDR Park in Philadelphia to mount various rallies and protests. Our Vice Chair Michael Mottern (in the photo, on the left) tells me about the experience.

Rick: It sounds like FDR Park was the rallying point for all the various protest groups. Tell me about that.

Michael: Actually the meet-up location was City Hall. All the visiting groups were coordinated through philly.fyi. The field organizer was Jamhar James and he did a great job. The big march was on Sunday, from City Hall to FDR Park. FDR Park is across the road from Wells Fargo Center where the Democratic Convention was held. It was about a 3 ½ mile parade down Broad Street. The march included many different groups: socialists, environmentalists, black lives matter, legalizing pot, etc. Black Men for Bernie surprisingly had a very large presence. Altogether, I don’t know how many people were there; I’m no good at estimating crowds, but many thousands of people were there. The newspaper would give a better estimate.

Rick: The press liked to focus on some of the outlier groups, like the ones burning the US and Israeli flags. What was the general tone of the rallies?

Michael: I didn’t see any flag burning. It may have been a small group. There were so many people there, it would be easy to miss something. Overall, it was very peaceful. The police were very good. Polite, easy going. Based on what I saw at FDR Park, I would even say many of them were supportive.

Rick: We heard that hotel rooms were costing into the thousands of dollars during the convention. Protesters don’t have that kind of money.

Michael: I stayed at a cheap hotel on the other side of the river in Camden. Not a very safe area. But the hotel was full of protesters and we traveled on a bus to and from the hotel to Philly each day. We didn’t have any trouble and I met a lot of great people. Philly.fyi had bottled water to keep everyone hydrated and they had porta-johns everywhere. Maybe the city gave them the money to take care of the protesters? Philly.fyi did a great job. There were a lot of people that were trying to overnight in the park, but they weren’t allowed. Police had to evict them, but I didn’t hear of any violence or serious incidents. There were lots of food trucks for people to get something to eat, and Food Not Bombs was giving away hummus sandwiches and fresh vegetables. I and everyone else appreciated it.

Rick: How were your interactions with other socialist groups?

Michael: I spoke with some DSA people. They are kind of “cliquey”. They think highly of themselves. One said to me, “You guys are still around?” in a smart ass way. I also spoke with a member of Socialist Alternative. She asked me how we could have a Hillary voter as a member. I said, “We’re a democratic organization. We try to influence how our members vote, we don’t mandate how they vote”. She smirked and walked away. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of democratic centralism on the left.

Notes: Here is the website for philly.fyi.

Michael with the traditional rose of the left

Michael with the traditional red flag and rose of the left

protesters assembling at City Hall

protesters assembling at City Hall

Optimistic marcher

Optimistic marcher

Michael, our endorsed candidate Bernie, and the SDUSA torch

Michael, our endorsed candidate Bernie, and the SDUSA torch

Lots of signage

Lots of signage

More signage

More signage

Bernie supporters in large numbers

Bernie supporters in large numbers

Environmentalists

Global warming was a hot topic

Assembly at FDR

Assemblage at FDR Park

Red rose, red flag, alongside American colors says it all

Red rose, red flag, and American colors

Realignment— The Sequel

“I’m back, like an old pair of shoes you thought you threw away”. Johnny Cash

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Last year when Bernie Sanders decided to run as a Democrat, he resurrected the question of third party or independent candidates for president. When he ran for mayor and member of Congress he ran as a socialist or independent, but for president he is running as a Democrat. One year ago this month I met Bernie at the Keystone Progress Summit in Harrisburg, PA. At that time he was unannounced and was traveling around the country examining the climate for his potential campaign. I had an opportunity to briefly talk with him about how he would run. I told him that Social Democrats USA would welcome his entry into the race, although we were still months away from endorsing anyone. I also commented that in a “Democratic machine” state like Pennsylvania he would have a lot of trouble winning as a third party candidate, and I suggested that running as a Democrat would be best. He joked that his staff had discussed this topic once or twice, implying that HOW to run was as big a question as SHOULD he run.

Shachtman

Shachtman

Many sisters and brothers on the left feel that we should have a party of our own— a party of labor and progressives that would field candidates against corporatist Democrats. And they further argue that every time a candidate like Bernie Sanders decides to run as a Democrat, he or she thwarts the effort to create such a party. Well, the truth is that we did have an independent left party for decades. And it didn’t work. We were never able to get Labor and Socialists on the same page long enough to field a candidate who would beat both Democrats and Republicans. Members of the working class are often conservative in their social attitudes, contrary to the positions of socialists. And even though attempts were made to pull socialists and labor together in a unified party, by 1960 most leaders of the Party had abandoned the idea of fielding candidates. At the national convention that year they adopted a policy of “realignment”. The center piece of that policy would be exerting Labor and Socialist influence within the Democratic Party to pull the party to the left and to force out any right wing tendencies, i.e., Dixiecrats. There is a great article this month in Jacobin magazine on the topic of realignment. Paul Heideman describes the history of realignment in wonderful detail invoking all our favorite players including Shachtman, Harrington, Rustin, Reuther, and Meany. He writes that in the 1950s, “The way might then be clear, Shachtman reasoned, for labor and its liberal allies to take over the party, transforming it into something like a European social-democratic party”. Not everyone bought into the idea. Proponents and opponents pitched back and forth through the 60s, until Harrington was elected SP Chair in 1968. He was a realigner, but unfortunately the Vietnam War created a new division between socialists and labor. Former allies Shachtman and Harrington were now on opposite sides. The realignment plan never really came to fruition. In a last gasp effort the AFL-CIO did endorse Mondale in advance of the 1984 primaries as a show of unified labor influence in the DP. In the decades since then, labor has become weaker. The social democratic faction in the DP has struggled to keep its head above water while the DP leadership agreed to cuts in social programs, a negative growth minimum wage, investment bankers ruining our economy, and a foreign policy that includes perpetual war. We have a Democratic Party that is driven from the top, ever reminding us that the DP is not a membership based party. The Democratic National Committee drives the bus and the voters are told to get on the bus. No one at the DNC asks the passengers where they would like to go.

Harrington

Harrington

Because realignment didn’t produce the desired results, there have been recurring calls for the creation of a new left party. Are conditions better now than they were 50 years ago? Was our failure to unite labor and political action the only reason realignment didn’t work before? Michael Goodhart, a local poli-sci professor here in Pittsburgh, once told me that it was because of some guy named Maurice Duverger. His contribution to our story was his theory that winner-take-all voting systems lead to two parties, whereas proportional voting systems tend to create multiple parties. In other words, third party candidates are viewed as spoilers and that causes voters to gravitate towards the least-worst candidate of the two major parties. We have seen this “spoiler” candidate in a number of elections and most leftists are not prepared to split the left vote and hand a victory to the Republicans. Last month I had a short on-line discussion about realignment with Jason Schulman and David Duhalde of DSA and Bhaskar Sundara, editor of Jacobin. At one point I commented that Harrington had recognized the validity of Duverger and supported realignment; Jason responded that Harrington and Duverger were both wrong. To that I can only respond that I don’t see any evidence that a new left party would be successful, especially one that is membership based. If we can’t muster enough support to become a majority of the DP, then we don’t have enough support to build a new party in a winner-take-all voting system. And if I may throw salt into the wound, the Tea Party has already demonstrated that realignment works. Rather than run as third party candidates, Tea Partiers were smart enough to form a “party within the party” and became a major influence in the GOP.

When charting a path forward, it always helps to take a look at where you’ve been. In 1972, the Socialist Party changed its name to Social Democrats USA. It is not insignificant that we dropped the word “party” from our name. As discouraging as it is, we are not going to field candidates except in some rare cases of a local or regional election where the general population is already leftist and the contest is only between corporate democrats and social democrats. (Actually, now that I think about it, that describes Hawaii and an independent Social Democratic Party could probably have success there). Although realignment did not work in the past, there is no viable alternative at this time. Our National Committee remains committed to the realignment policy of the Shachtmanites. Roger Heller, a UAW political activist in Michigan and a SDUSA NC member, believes the Sanders campaign has created the momentum needed to establish a permanent Social Democratic Caucus within the DP. We need to harness the energy being created by the Sanders movement and not let it evaporate after November. However, be assured that if Bernie doesn’t win the DP nomination, there will be more cries for the creation of a new progressive/labor party and the abandonment of realignment.

Netroots 2015

Secretary Treasurer Rick D'Loss and interim Chair Patty Friend

Secretary Treasurer Rick D’Loss and interim Chair Patty Friend

Social Democrats USA attended Netroots Nation for the first time this year. The first Netroots Nation convention (then called the YearlyKos convention) was held in 2006. At the time SDUSA was going through a bad spell— still suffering from the death of our Executive Director, Penn Kemble. Netroots started as a convention of political bloggers (headed by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the DailyKos fame) who wanted to use the internNET to develop grassROOTS political organizations— hence the name change to Netroots. Yes, there were some big name speakers at the very first Netroots, including Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Barbara Boxer, and since then the annual convention has become a “must attend” event for Democratic candidates. Thus it is interesting that Hillary did not show up this year. Elizabeth Warren was present, as was Martin O’Malley. But clearly the favorite of the crowd was Bernie Sanders. Almost everyone that I interacted with over the 3 days of Netroots was wearing a Bernie button.

Netroots-Black-Lives-Matter-OMalley-Netroots

Jose Antonio Vargas, Tia Oso, Martin O’Malley

As you saw in the press over the weekend, the big story was the interruption of the candidates forum on Saturday morning by the “Black Lives Matter” coalition. The less than stellar responses by O’Malley and Sanders were most reported. What wasn’t reported was that the protesters were protesting the Netroots organizers, not the candidates. They felt that that the issue of blacks being harassed and killed by police should be front and center, and that the mostly white Netroots organizers were unsympathetic to the crisis. Hence, when forum moderator Vargas was conducting his Q&A, the protesters assembled and took over. In fairness to O’Malley and Sanders, it was Vargas who was in charge of dealing with the situation. At one point, Sanders looked at Vargas and asked “what are we doing”? Most of us have been involved in protests at some point or another. The goal is to disrupt the normal flow of things, get attention for your cause, and perhaps make some demands. I think if you accomplish the first two and not the third, you have missed an opportunity. That’s what I saw Saturday. The protesters had the sympathy of the crowd, initially. They stopped the show. The leaders were invited to the stage. They spoke their piece. And they demanded responses from O’Malley and later Sanders. But here’s were it fell apart. As the candidates were responding to the protesters, the protesters continued their protest and didn’t allow the candidates to speak. Vargas was unable to control the situation.

Vargas asking the protesters to let Sanders speak

Vargas asking the protesters to let Sanders speak

Hence, O’Malley exited the stage after his “all lives matter” comment was not well received. Sanders ended up shouting over top of the protesters, which was also not well received. When Vargas said our time is up, Bernie responded, “good”. Amongst the audience there were mixed responses: some sympathetic to the protesters and some not. One man near me hollered, “sit down and shut up” at the protesters. I asked my colleague Patty what she thought. She recalled the protests of her youth during the sixties. “We disrupted a lot. But what was the result? We got Ronald Reagan for governor because he promised to crack down on agitators. Protesting has its limits. You have to get the politicians on your side if you want action.”

For me, that was the lesson of the day. Protesting is just venting anger and frustration if there is no follow-up. No matter how sympathetic we are to the anger, there will be no value to the protest if it can’t be turned into political action.